Mental illness runs in my family. I’m not ashamed to admit that; it’s a fact that I have to be aware of so that I can take care of my family and myself in the best way possible.
Anxiety tends to have a pretty strong grip on me. It always has. And while I’m currently not in a situation where I need to be medicated for my anxiety (though I have been in the past) I’m extremely aware of it lurking around every corner in my life, and so I’ve been trying to actively cultivate peace within my own home as much as possible.
The other day I sat down and started journaling out all the ways I could develop peace in my life which, when engaging in a healthy (read: “not conflict-averse”) marriage and raising two small boys, is so incredibly crucial. While journaling I thought about all the times I lose it on my kids and husband. I thought about the times I rage against my own self in the mirror. I contemplated the reasoning behind these behaviors and how I could better mitigate them.
While I was musing in my journal, I periodically stopped to pick up my phone and check social media. I’d mindlessly scroll through Instagram, like some photos, then open Facebook and read a few posts. Then I’d check Twitter, retweet a few posts, and close all my apps and resume journaling for five or so minutes. But then, after a few minutes of journaling, I’d find myself mindlessly grabbing my phone, opening all those apps again, and repeating the same process. Then I’d return to my journal. Then back to the apps. Then the journal.
Then my four-year-old son Dax asked me to play with him while I was journaling and I lost it on him for breaking my focus, which clearly wasn’t even focused at all due to my own habits. And then it hit me.
Maybe what has been deteriorating my mental health lately is social media. Or, at the very least, the senseless scrolling and consuming information that, quite frankly, doesn’t make me a more peaceful person. It triggers my anxiety by making me compare myself to others (which makes me unappreciative of the life I have) and it feeds my need for affirmation via likes, comments, and retweets from acquaintances (and often times even strangers) that I’m not allowing myself to get from the most important people in my life – my husband and kids.
When my mental state is as such, I lash out. I get defensive and emotional. I start thinking irrational thoughts, and I suffer greatly. My husband suffers. My kids suffer. And they deserve so much better.
Up to this point, I’ve been known to make excuses for my social media addiction. I have to be on social media all the time for work! My extended family lives far away and wants to see copious amounts of photos of my children! I have to stay up to date with the news of the world! I can’t be left behind! But all of these excuses were looking pretty weak in Dax’s bewildered face when I practically jumped down his throat the other day. My sweet, innocent baby, who just wanted to spend some time with me, was taking a back seat to a selfish and destructive addiction that was eating away at my mental health, and I had only just realized it in that moment. Perhaps it’s been a problem the entire four years of his life, but hopefully it won’t be anymore.
Yes, I am a social media professional and yes, I have to be on social media for work a lot. But all those times I was checking my phone during my journaling that led me to freak out on my preschooler unwarrantedly, let’s be honest – I was not doing any work. I was thoughtlessly scrolling my personal accounts. So I’ve made a pact with myself on how to keep my recreational social media usage in check.
If you’re someone who’s looking to maybe curb your own social media habits, whether they cause mental un-health or not, maybe try out a couple of these things I’m doing.
- I’m setting aside a time of day, once the kids are in bed, to check social media, and I’m only giving myself 20 minutes. On one hand this seems reasonable, but on the other hand, can I view each of my followers’ posts from the day in one, 20-minute sitting? Maybe not, and that’s just got to be okay with me. The less time I spend looking at other people’s digital lives, the more time I get to admire my own actual life.
- Out of sight, out of mind. During the day when I’m not working and I’m with my kids, I’m going to keep my phone plugged into its charger in my bedroom. And when I’m out with friends, my phone will stay in my purse on vibrate rather than in my pocket or (ugh, worse) on the table. Sure, this might mean I’ll miss out on some cute snapshots of my kids playing, and I won’t be able to quickly snap a selfie with my girlfriends at dinner, but it’s more important to those people (and to me) that I’m present with them in the moment than trying to capture their lives on my Instagram story.
- Committing to only posting on my social media accounts once a week. This one is going to be tough, because every time I log into Twitter I want to retweet like a mad woman, and I want to Instagram literally every precious photo of my kids because they’re the cutest kids in the entire world. But I’m hoping that this will not only break my screen addiction but also make me be more thoughtful and intentional about the fewer posts I do end up publishing.
- I’m committing to reading more books. I set my 2017 reading challenge on Good Reads to read 20 books this year, a little fewer than two a month. I’m going try to train myself to reach into my purse for a book instead of my phone. I’ve also loaded my iPad with a bunch of free ebooks, so at night time when I’m in bed and have no light to read but am itching to scroll through a screen I’ll still be able to grab a book instead of my phone.
- I’m seeking accountability. The thing is, I could set all of these guidelines for myself and no one would really know it unless I was honest about it. I’m being honest about it with my husband, a few close friends, and now the entire Internet apparently.
I know that this social media strategy isn’t a magic bullet to ridding myself of anxiety and being a totally peaceful, present parent and partner. I know that this just addresses one part of my oh-so-complicated mental makeup. But it’s a (relatively easy) start, I think. I’m ready.